By: Kenny Jimison
The 2020 NASCAR playoffs are in full effect, but rumors are flying on where drivers will end up next season. These are the top drivers and seats currently available for 2021 NASCAR season.
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Daniel Suarez has confirmed he will be leaving the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota Camry at the end of the 2020 season. With no ride planned currently for next season, this makes Suarez one of the larger players available for the 2021 season. Suarez is looking for this fourth team in his five seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series. The current rumor is pegging Suarez to the Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro due to the team wanting a driver with ethnic diversity.
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Erik Jones will be released from the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry and replaced by Christopher Bell for the 2021 season. Jones has raced three full time seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series and has managed to secure two wins over 150 races. Jones has yet to announce a ride for the 2021 season, but speculation currently places him to replace the retiring 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
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No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Team
The biggest opening in NASCAR for the 2021 season in undoubtably the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports. While owner Rick Hendrick has said he already has a driver lined up, Hendrick is waiting until after the 2020 season to announce the driver so the teams can focus on the playoffs currently happening. Questions have risen about the fate of the No. 48 car in NASCAR. Many believe the team number should be reserved for Jimmie Johnson, should he run a part time schedule, and be renumbered to No. 5 or No. 25, two numbers Hendrick Motorsports has run in the past.
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Kyle Larson, former driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro, is currently not signed to a team in NASCAR but is looking to potentially make a return in 2021. Larson was dropped by CGR as well as sponsors after dropping a racial slur during an iRacing tournament earlier this year. Larson has 6 wins in 223 races over eight years in the NASCAR Cup Series and could be a top free agent name, depending on how willing sponsors are to sponsor him. Larson has yet to be reinstated to NASCAR after being suspended, but most believe Larson will end up at Stewart- Haas Racing. Tony Stewart has stated his interest in Larson and a seat at SHR would allow him to still run dirt races at a lower level. Some believe Larson is also a potential for the No. 48 at Hendrick Motorsports, but whether or not he would be allowed to run dirt races may give this rumor less credibility.
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Corey Lajoie will be parting ways with No. 32 at Go Fas Racing following the 2020 season. Lajoie has not announced any plans for 2021 other than that he is in “discussions with several other opportunities to continue improving competitively in the [NASCAR] Cup Series.” Lajoie expressed his interest in the No. 48 at Hendrick Motorsports in a letter earlier this year.
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Matt Dibenedetto is currently signed with the No. 21 at Wood Brothers Racing. Dibenedetto has not resigned with the team, but speculation on where he will be next season has not kicked up. Unless Roger Penske, owner of Team Penske, decides to try and move up Austin Cindric to the Cup Series with Wood Brothers Racing, Dibenedetto is likely to be resigned before the 2021 season.
(Image courtesy: Gwinnett Daily Post)
Chase Briscoe is currently racing the No. 98 Ford Mustang with Stewart- Hass Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. After a breakout year in 2020, rumors have started to kick up on whether or not Briscoe will be coming to the Cup Series next year. A potential move up could place Briscoe at SHR, replacing Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 Ford Mustang or with the No. 32 Ford Mustang of Go Fas Racing with SHR backing.
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Clint Bowyer is currently signed with the No. 14 Ford Mustang at Stewart- Haas Racing but has yet to be signed for the 2021 season. Bowyer has stated his interest in running for SHR in 2021 and has also said he would like to retire from SHR when the time comes. Bowyer could potentially be replaced with Kyle Larson or Chase Briscoe, but who will be in the No. 14 next year is still very much up in the air.
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Ty Dillion is currently driving the No. 13 for Germain Racing, but will be losing his seat in 2021 due to the team closing. After losing key sponsorship with Geico, Germain Racing has been forced to close its doors and the charter has been sold to Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to start their new team with Bubba Wallace. A potential landing spot for Dillion would be a third car with his grandfather’s team, Richard Children Racing, or in the No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports with RCR backing.